Last June I crossed the Long Meadow of Prospect Park where, into the 1930s, sheep grazed: living, local lawn mowers. I walked among imprints not of sheep hooves but of cleats and dog paws on bald soil patches. That sunny morning a parks employee rode a power mower over tall grass, leaving a trail of sweetly fragrant clumps. Hailing him down, I asked if I could pick up the strewn green to compost, received an A-OK, and, in search of something to carry it in, headed out of the park and straight for our neighborhood drugstore.
There, pharmacist Mohammed Patel, his staff and I have shared many conversations about growing food, they in their native lands—India, Italy, Mexico—and me in my homeland: Brooklyn. Mohammed had mentioned that behind the store was a yard with, as he called it, “virgin soil” where they wanted to put in a garden.
I asked Mohammed and his clerk, Steve, for some bags, excitedly describing this serendipitous source of precious green to mulch seedlings where my family grows food at the very end of Flatbush Avenue. They gave me a few bags. The price? Help them get their garden going. Deal.
The next week Steve, Mohammed and I swung open the door to their back space, surveyed the flat rubble and formulated a plan: rake the glass and rocks from the surface, run to Greenwood Cemetery’s mulch pile (free year-round), turn over the soil, make some rows…plant…till…weed…hopefully harvest.
When I checked back the following week, Steve urged me to the yard. Transformed. Swept clear of debris…planted. Pepper, eggplant, cilantro and tomato seedlings. Rows seeded with beans. They’d skipped the compost but their garden was up and running.
Through the summer, Steve tended with materials at hand. He wove branches together and staked the tomato plants. He turned old store display stands into trellises. The sidewalk ice chopper doubled as a shovel. The garden gave, admirably, for a first start. At harvest, Mohammed and Steve shared assessments, common among gardeners, about how things did and how they could do better.
Mohammed and Steve are aiming for better. Our conversations lean in toward the growing season, and the peppers, tomatoes, beans and cilantro that they’ll plant again. I toss in my two cents. They’ll dig in compost this go ’round. We pause, feeling summer in our little town, and we believe.
Annie Hauck-Lawson helped her neighborhood pharmacy start a garden.